Monday, October 24, 2016

Typewriter in the Sky - Chapter Five part two - Blood and Brains

Last time, Mike and Lady Marion had a moment and the story's POV took an unexpected turn, only for both developments to be derailed by the arrival of "Blood and Loot"'s designated hero.

Mike and Marion can hear "a coldly quiet voice" talking "deadly business" with Lord Carstone in the next room, and Marion throws open the door so they can better overhear Bristol insisting that he be allowed to take a look at this "don" no matter how much Carstone protests their guest is an Irishman.  Since they're in the salon Mike can't see them, so Bristol will get a proper dramatic introduction in two pages, but he can see some of Bristol's sea dogs, brawny and cruel-faced fellows that include headsilked Frenchmen, as well as Caribs and Maroons bearing chests of plunder.

Also, Mike recognizes some of them, particularly three towering Maroons named Catshy, Zuil and Suyda, who he knows he had ordered flogged and tossed overboard to be shark food.  But he's too busy worrying about being identified as the book's villain to waste any thought on how he knows these things.  Eventually Bristol and Captain Braumley, who's come back from getting thrown out of the house by Mike, are able to convince Carstone that they need to take a look at his guest.  Marion calls that Mike's in the drawing room, and let the confrontation begin.  Set scene, and go!

Mike stood by the window, his face in dimness, his shadow painted gigantically upon an ancient tapestry by the guttering candles.  His very first glimpse of Bristol told him that here was a man who would have to be removed if he himself was ever to be safe again.

Bristol was lean and hard.  His handsome face was keen and strong.  His eyes were as pale and cold as Arctic ice.  He wore his own blond hair and it came in a metallic sweep down to the shoulders of his flaring cloak collar.  There was a hard steel quality about the fellow which Mike felt would, in itself, turn the edge of a battle-ax.

Huh, I think Mike can see the hero's plot armor.  Also, I'm a little disappointed that Mike didn't notice or comment on how he happened to position himself in the most dramatic manner possible.  Or was it intentional on Mike's part?

Lady Marion introduces Michael O'Brian and Captain Thomas Bristol to each other, and it's one of those scenes where the characters are trading polite pleasantries while staring at each other, waiting for the first sign of weakness or an indication of an attack.  Bristol remarks on Mike's good fortune for surviving that shipwreck, Mike gathers from the loot in the hall that Bristol's voyage was successful, and Bristol invites him to look at the booty.  Uh, plunder.  From all those Spanish ships Bristol attacked.

Now, Mike knows that the offer "was a trap to get him into sight of those Maroons" out in the better-lit hallway, but Mike also thinks "And yet it seemed a good bait to grab."  No elaboration.  We don't know if he's trying to bluff his way out of the situation, or if Mike is once again having thoughts beamed into his head by the all-powerful plot to make him behave in a certain way.  Missed opportunity, Hubbard.

Or maybe Mike can sense that this isn't a dramatic enough moment to reveal his 'true' identity so it's a safe offer to make.  This talk about inspecting the plunder gets Lord Carstone interested, and he insists, to Bristol's disappointment, that the treasure be hauled into the room where they're talking and drinking.  So Mike gets to hang out in the shadows where no one can identify him while Carstone first drools over the gold spilling out of the treasure chests, then complains that Bristol didn't bring him any slaves to work the plantations.  Bristol seizes this opportunity and orders Zuil to have the prisoners of war brought into the courtyard.

There's another page of agonizing small talk-

"Been long in these waters?" said Bristol.

"No," said Mike.

"Wonderful place," said Bristol.

"Aye," said Mike.  "Wonderful."

"Except for the fever," said Bristol.  "That gets the best of them."

"Aye, it must," said Mike.

-and the narration once again slips into the omniscient, when we're told that Bristol is quietly furious that his plans go give Lady Marion a necklace have been derailed by a rival to her affections.  But then a pirate announces that the prisoners have arrived, and everyone files out to gloat over those nasty Spanish.  On the way out Mike picks his wide-brimmed hat on the room's anachronistic piano, and... bleh.  Even when Hubbard's satirizing bad writing he still makes a mistake: Mike is startled by the hat, "for he did not recall landing with a hat," even though he's already mentioned the magically-appearing hat several times over the past few chapters.  He ought to be surprised it's on the piano, I can't find any indication he was wearing it when he started playing.

Anyway, they go down into the courtyard to inspect the prisoners by torchlight.  Lord Carstone starts examining teeth and prodding muscles while Mike tries to keep anyone from recognizing him, but wouldn't you know it but a young cadet, "Chains notwithstanding," throws himself to Mike's feet and clutches his leg while begging the "Almirante!" to save him.  Mike tries to kick the kid away, but Bristol draws his sword and those three named Maroons are upon him in an instant.

You know how it goes.  Mike blurs into action, filled "by a gigantic power, dancing back with his blade shrieking" to bring down the first baddie.  One of the Spanish officers steals a cutlass to try and help, and suddenly there's a "Clank!" and the prisoners, who had been chained together, are now "miraculously chained independently in such a way that he would be wielding his fetters as a weapon!"  Bristol and Mike briefly lock blades before Bristol is pulled back, and then the prisoners are swinging left and right until the courtyard becomes "slippery with blood and brains," ick.

By this point the English have gunners shooting into the mob, so Mike calls "The gate!  La puerta!" and another opportunity for satire is missed when he doesn't wonder why he's speaking two languages.  The chained prisoners rush the fort's entrance, but the guards take aim at Mike at point-blank range, where even muskets can't miss.  But then,


He had a steel corselet about him which he had not had before.  He made a mental note to thank Hackett and even as he acted had a sudden chill of knowing that so far something had always happened to save him, but that he could not possibly continue to depend upon it.  The hero, Bristol, might.  But not Mike, the villain of the piece!

At least he's coming to terms with the situation.  As the Spanish batter their way through the gate sentries, Bristol reappears to lock blades with Mike as the two snarl at each other, their faces close enough to generate some homoerotic subtext.  "You Spanish hellion!", Bristol will never rest until Mike's hanged for a spy, "I'm not a pirate" as a comeback, Bristol promises to kill Mike, Mike promises to "probably have" Lady Marion, and then... again, missed opportunity.

Mike tells Bristol to get out of the way and his mob of escapees "swept over Bristol and battered him under" as they flee.  Even after recognizing that Bristol is the biggest threat to his life, Mike doesn't do the smart thing and kill him now when Bristol is hilariously outnumbered.  And more disappointingly, he doesn't wonder why he can't bring himself to do this, to kill off the book's hero before the story's halfway point, to act like an intelligent villain instead of one who sets up his own defeat.

Which isn't to say that Mike isn't totally neglecting to use his smarts.  He has the Spanish close the fort's gates behind them, then pours out the contents of a purloined powder horn and uses a pistol to spark a fire that sets the fort's entrance ablaze.  Once he and his men are out of range of the musketmen on the fort's walls, they take a moment using their stolen weapons to lose some dead weight, hacking the limbs of those who died during the escape and were dragged along by their chains.  Some are merely wounded, though, and beg to be killed instead of left behind for the English to recover.

And then Mike, about to order that death much to his own horror, changed that order.  "Pick them up, you hulks.  Are we English?"

They burdened themselves with the wounded.

The sound of the typewriter faded to nothing.

Which begs the question of how much credit Mike deserves for leading this escape, if it's only now that he's really asserting himself over the story.

The rest of their escape is no trouble.  Some soldiers or whatever come up the hill from the town to see what the commotion is about, but Mike is able to have his men hide in the brush while he in English tells the newcomers to hurry to 'rescue' the fort from an attack, only to get shot at in the confusion of night by the very people they're trying to help.  Bristol's buccaneers are in town, but they're celebrating their success in the traditional pirate manner, and don't notice the group of Spaniards slipping between the taverns.  So Mike and his men are able to steal boats, row out to one of the warships in the harbor, and take it without a fight because its crew are too drunk to notice they're being boarded until the Spanish are all over them.

Oh, and if you're wondering about that young cadet who blew Mike's cover, when Mike asks about the kid he's informed that he died during the escape.  Mike has no reaction to this, and there's no indication what he planned to do to the cadet.  It just kind of happens.

Mike has his men sail away with the ship's lanterns darkened, but soon he has to take a moment to take stock of what he's doing.  He's speaking fluent Spanish - Castilian, in fact - and giving the proper orders to the crew of this archaic sailing vessel.  He's also killed "seven or eight" men in less than a day, which doesn't seem to be tearing him up too much, and in his defense... well, it was in self-defense.  And he thinks he might have fallen in love with Lady Marion.

What strange power was this which decreed all those things?

Oh come on, just three pages ago you thanked Hackett for giving you a breastplate... though come to think of it, after the armor appeared, the musketmen never actually shot at Mike, he went straight into melee without any bullets bouncing off his armored tummy.  So it was ultimately unnecessary.  Anyway, Mike should know at this point what's going on.

So we end with Mike, aka Almirante Miguel Saint Raoul de Lobo, commanding a warship as it sails beneath the stars towards a place called Nombre de Dios which he isn't confident actually exists even though he has distinct memories of what it looks like, after having made a deadly enemy in Captain Tom Bristol, "the coolest and toughest and cleverest" of the pirates to threaten the Spanish in the Caribbean.  All while he has an existential crisis.

"She's luffing her t'ps'ls," said Mike.  "Bring the breeze farther astern."

Had he said that?

How did he know?

How- Wh-


And how would all this end?

Guess we'll have to keep reading and find out.

Have to say, it sure is a lot more interesting when you can't be confident that the hero will defeat the villain in the end, the villain is more sympathetic and likeable than the one-dimensional hero, and someone is trying to flout convention within the story itself. 

Back to Chapter five part one

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